Be Active after SCI
Research has shown that regular physical activity after SCI can improve breathing ability, muscle strength, blood circulation, body composition (more muscle, less fat), bowel function, cholesterol, self-esteem and self-confidence. It has also been found to reduce pain and depression.
But it can be hard to be physically active when you have a spinal cord injury. This issue is devoted to helping you find ways to increase your physical activity to improve your health and well-being.
What do I need to do?
It’s important to remember that all physical activity provides health benefits, not just structured exercise or sports. Joining a club, buying expensive equipment or joining a team isn’t the only way to get physically active.
Any movement of the body that is produced by the muscles and uses energy can increase fitness. Called “lifestyle physical activity,” this can be done anywhere and be part of whatever you are doing. Moderate activity produces the same health benefits as high intensity activity, and it does not have to be done all at once to be beneficial. Three 10-minute sessions during the course of a day may have the same benefits as longer sessions, and this approach is easier for many people to adopt as a habit. Lifestyle physical activity may be a good way to start out or to increase your physical activity.
Choosing an assortment of different activities and varying them from day to day will help you avoid boredom and prevent overuse of certain muscles.
How do I get started?
- Ask: What can I do now? Begin by doing it three to four times a week, then gradually increase duration or intensity. Add in new activities little by little.
- Consult a health care provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have arm or shoulder pain. Overuse is often caused by doing things the wrong way rather than too much.
- To prevent overuse syndromes: Vary your activities from day to day, strengthen your upper back and posterior shoulder muscles, and stretch the muscles in front of your shoulders and chest.
- For people with tetraplegia (quadriplegia): Exercise in a cool environment to prevent overheating. Take measures to prevent low blood pressure by wearing support hose, ace wraps and an abdominal binder. Stop exercising if you develop dizziness, nausea or light-headedness. Know the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia (see our SCI Forum report on autonomic dysreflexia).
I want to join a fitness club. How can I find one I can use?
What to look for in a fitness facility, and how to get changes made to improve accessibility. Go to "Finding an Accessible Fitness Center."
What do other people with SCI do to get active?
Real life fitness stories from people with injuries ranging from L2 to C2, in "Real Life Fitness."
I’d like to try something new. What’s out there?
From team sports to yoga to accessible outdoor trails, see our physical activity resources in "Get Going: Physical Activity and Exercise Resources."